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Herger Opening Statement: Joint Hearing on Removing Social Security Numbers From Beneficiaries’ Medicare Cards

August 01, 2012

(Remarks as Prepared)

Thank you, Chairman Johnson.

I’m pleased the Subcommittees are meeting today to discuss what I consider to be a common sense, bipartisan idea that will help protect our nation’s seniors, brought before the Committee by Chairman Johnson and Congressman Doggett.

Medicare beneficiaries from across the United States are affected by fraud and identity theft, including those in California where nearly 100,000 beneficiaries have had their Social Security number compromised, according to CMS data.  I am sure I am not the only Member of this Committee who has received letters asking for Congressional action to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.  A constituent of mine wrote about an interaction with CMS where he was told after asking about removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards, quote, “We’ve always done it that way and we don’t intend to change it.”  He went on to state, “With identity theft running rampant in this country it seems ridiculous that Medicare would refuse to stop this practice.”  I couldn’t agree more.

While challenges lie ahead for the agencies involved in the process of removing Social Security numbers from public documents, I am very disappointed with the lack of leadership and interest in this issue at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.   To date, CMS has offered little beyond excuses and questionable reports.  Interestingly, CMS did not appear too concerned about the costs and efforts involved with removing Social Security numbers when it mandated that private Medicare plans do so years ago.

When the Office of Management and Budget, under the previous Administration, issued a 2007 directive to all federal agencies to develop a plan to remove Social Security numbers, the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration acted.  As a result, they are well on their way towards full implementation of their plans.  Presumably, these Departments had the same logistical challenges that CMS faces, but they did not offer excuses, they offered a plan.  And not only did they have a plan, but they also found a way to do it with existing funding.  CMS doesn’t even have a plan to move forward, despite being directed to do so five years ago, and now professes to need nearly $1 billion in additional funding to do so.

The validity of the latest CMS cost estimates has been questioned by GAO. The new estimate is nearly three times more expensive despite taking half as long to implement than what was predicted just a few years ago.  It is becoming clear to me that CMS simply isn’t interested in taking this common sense approach to protect seniors and people with disabilities from identity theft.

Or perhaps there’s another reason. As we all know, there is a key development that took place between the first estimate and the second estimate – the enactment and initial implementation of ObamaCare.

It’s been widely reported that significant CMS resources, both financial and staffing, have been diverted from the Medicare program to implement non-Medicare ObamaCare provisions, such as Exchanges and mandated health benefits.  

I can’t help but wonder if this new cost estimate reflects just how thin Medicare has been stretched because of ObamaCare, or perhaps that some in the Obama Administration recognize this as an opportunity to grab more money to implement ObamaCare.  As you may know, the independent Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly stated that the Democrats’ health care law drastically underfunded implementation efforts.

If this is a simple money grab, perhaps that’s why CMS has been unable to provide sufficient data or other information to support the cost estimates in its report.

It is clear that a more complete and thorough cost analysis by CMS is necessary, one that is held to the standards we have come to expect in reports to Congress by Federal entities.  If CMS does not want to responsibly act, then Congress will require them to.  Business as usual should not trump protecting Medicare beneficiaries.

Thank you, Chairman Johnson, I yield back.


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